More than 75 workers at Peterborough City Council could be made redundant under the authority’s latest cost-cutting measures.
The potential job losses were announced by the cash-strapped council today (Friday) as it looks to tackle a £33 million budget deficit following substantial cuts to its government funding and rising cost pressures.
However, the number of redundancies could be more than doubled with staff contracted to work at the authority also expected to lose their jobs.
Under the budget proposals council tax is also set to rise by four per cent - with two per cent of the increase ringfenced for adult social care - while funding to support the most vulnerable in the city has also been slashed by millions of pounds as the council focuses on only funding essential services.
Despite this, the council is forking out £736,200 in consultancy fees to Grant Thornton to deliver its programme of savings, which include curbing perks for councillors.
Cllr David Seaton, cabinet member for finance at the Conservative-controlled council, said: “The financial challenge we have faced in recent times has been severe, but 2020/21 is our toughest challenge yet.
“Since 2013/14 our funding from government has been reduced by over 80 per cent and demand for services has increased at an unprecedented rate. We’re providing more temporary accommodation for people in housing need, more care packages for the elderly and vulnerable and there are more children requiring care placements and school places.
“Despite this we have continued to provide the vital services that residents rely upon and achieved many successes thanks to the dedication and passion of our staff, the creative ideas and use of resources that have been developed to deliver services in new and better ways and the leadership and commitment of our councillors.”
The council has identified up to 75 potential redundancies which a spokeswoman said will be “mainly back-office functions as well as roles that mainly carry out non-statutory functions in the communities and safety department”.
Moreover, an internal restructure will see a number of staff employed by its partner Serco also losing their jobs.
The council’s budget document reveals a £2.5 million annual saving which is related to falling staff costs, meaning the number of redundancies could be more than doubled.
A Serco spokesperson said: “We understand the financial pressures that the council are under and are working with them in a constructive and collaborative way. At this stage nothing has been agreed.”
Under a 10 year contract which began in 2011, Serco took on the responsibility for a range of frontline and back-office council services including customer services, business services and ICT.
The council is proposing to redesign a number of its functions which will see technology taking over the roles currently performed by members of Serco contracted staff.
On top of the redundancies, the council is also proposing to slash the £20 million annual Serco budget by a further £2 million a year.
Other announcements in the budget include a four per cent rise in council tax which will generate an additional £2.8 million a year.
Band D taxpayers would see a rise of nearly £55 a year on their bill.
It is just the latest hike for residents after council tax was increased by three per cent in 2019/20, six per cent in 2018/19, five per cent in 2017/18 and four per cent in 2016/17.
Cllr Shaz Nawaz, leader of the council’s Labour group, said: “The proposed cuts in the budget are a result of years of neglect, irresponsible behaviour, abandonment of duty of care and lack of proper planning. It was a ticking timebomb that was going to cause massive damage the longer it was delayed, dodged and dismissed.
“Up to 75 council staff face redundancy. Is this because we did not need them in the first place and the council was inefficient or is it because the administration is ruthlessly cutting costs irrespective of the collateral damage the cuts will cause?”
Leader of the council’s Werrington First group Cllr Steve Lane said: “The end of austerity, announced last year by Theresa May, with a supposed increased investment in public services, is all but dashed.
“Obviously, my hope for a better future for Peterborough was wishful thinking, as Peterborough remains stuck with such a low level of support. When will this end? When will this Government open its eyes to the damage being levelled at local government and local people?”
Cllr Seaton added: “In developing this first set of proposals we have done everything we can to limit cuts to services by renegotiating and getting best value out of our contracts, increasing our commercial income, providing more services with Cambridgeshire County Council and our partners and building on our success of delivering services in different and more effective and efficient ways, for example using technology.
“I would ask everyone to look at these proposals and tell us what they think. We know that some of them will be unpopular with certain groups and this is why we want to understand how people feel through the consultation process.
“I ask everyone to please have in the back of their minds that for everything we take out we have to put something in to be able to make the savings that we need to next year.”
The council’s sole Liberal Party councillor, Cllr Chris Ash, said: “Care needs to be taken to ensure that money is spent carefully and ensures services to the public.
“Particularly, essential services must not be cut to the bone so those who need support are not put at risk.”
The proposals released today will make £24 million out of the necessary £33 million savings, with a second set of measures to balance the budget due to be released in January.
A public consultation has now opened up which will allow residents to have their say either at www.peterborough.gov.uk/budget, or by picking up a hard copy of the budget from the Town Hall in Bridge Street or at any city library from Monday.
The consultation will close on December 16 at 5pm with the Cabinet then considering the comments before Full Council votes on the proposals on Wednesday, December 18.
The Conservatives do not have a majority on the council but are expected to have enough support to get its budget proposals approved.
A series of articles on the budget proposals will be published online at https://www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk/news/politics from 5pm today (Friday) and over the weekend.